Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Those annoying save points

Borderlands 2 shares one annoying feature with many games designed for consoles: A save system where you can't save wherever you want, put your progress is automatically saved when reaching certain save points. Two nights ago I was two-thirds through the Bloodshot Stronghold when I had to stop playing to do something for my wife. And by quitting that "level" before getting to the end, the whole thing reset, and last night I had to play through it from the start.

So this time I reached the end and got to the save point of the next level. But I had gone past a red treasure chest behind a cell door without finding how to open that door. So I went back to look for the door switch. Then I ran into a crazy mob spawn that obviously wasn't designed to be approached from behind and died. And instead of reviving at the closest respawn point (there are several of those in each level), entering the level from behind had messed up the system and I respawned at the save point at the start of the stronghold. Dammit! Now I have to play through the whole level a third time this evening!

I wished there was a manual save option in addition to the automated save system. The automated save system works well enough as long as you play on rails, but isn't very flexible if you want to go exploring.

Exactly the same experience here and the reason I quit playing.

I was playing one evening and spent quite some time fighting my way through a camp. Got to 1am and had to go to bed only to find the next day that I had to replay it all.

My problem with the game not having a save anywhere option was that this raises the minimum session time. Which for my life style makes it unsuitable.
That was a major annoyance in BL1 too. Checkpoints are horrible, it's hard to justify them because they assume every gamer can spend a lot of time for every gaming session. Which -in our case- it's not the case.

Some levels are more punishing than others: you keep killing stuff and you never see the damned waypoint/checkpoint where you can safely quit and go to sleep.

On the other side, quicksaves drastically reduce both longevity and difficulty of any game. You should be allowed to choose between them, but I'll admit that BL2 is one of those rare games where I already speny more than 120 hours without quitting forever (it didn't hapend for BL1, for example).
The new Tomb Raider is pretty ok with its auto-saves. It saves continually, but it also has free travel between the plenty of checkpoints placed around each level.

A nice compromise, imo.
The manual save would allow you to save after every single pack, therefore trivializing any content.
The manual save would allow you to save after every single pack, therefore trivializing any content.

So what? I have yet to see a single-player offline game in which you can't cheat. Often enough it was the developers who built in a god mode or something similar. And very many games allow you to save and reload as often as you like.

I'd say that cheating doesn't matter in single-player games. It is stupid to not put in a feature that is useful for legitimate purposes just because somebody might use it to cheat.
I don't think you can blame this on consoles any more because there are many good games on consoles that have more flexible save features (eg Skyrim).

There is a philosophy that says that checkpoint save is better than save anywhere because it makes death more meaningful.

However even if you accept that philosophy (I am still on the fence)you can do checkpoints right or wrong.

Checkpoints done right:
*No more than 5 minutes game time between checkpoints.
*Checkpoint IMMEDIATELY before every tough encounter / boss fight.
*Have a chapter select so player can replay any section without having to go back to start of game.
*Allow player to stop game at any time and resume from where they left off.

Checkpoint done wrong:
*Arbitrary spacing of checkpoints sometimes more than 20 minutes.
*Long section of tedious trash mobs between checkpoint and boss fight.
*Only one save and no chapter select. You want to see it again - start a new game. You just hit a bug? Tough luck, you have to start a new game.
*You want to go to bed? Well keep playing you should reach a checkpoint in half an hour or so.

To answer Gevlon's point; the answer is surely to lock out the save anytime function on harder difficulties.

That being said, I have never believed that forced repetition = difficulty. It doesn't test skill, it tests your spare time allowance.

Even if you save after each pack you will still aim to clear each pack perfectly before saving. No doubt there will be plenty of failure and repetition involved in that approach. You would still need to acquire and demonstrate good skills to clear each pack satisfactorily.

Checkpoints -in general- CAN be a good thing. In this specific case (Borderlands 2) sometimes they're too far away from each other, forcing the player to invest at least some time before being free to quit and do something else.
I had many issues with BL1 and won't bother picking up BL2 because of it (also, already have too many games and no free time) but yes, a lousy checkpoint system with gaps too large is a real killer. I've been trying to play through the original Resistance on PS3 lately and it's checkpoint system is abysmal, dumping you back at the beginning of the level or (if you're very lucky) somewhere in the middle of the level if it's really, really long. Very archaic concept of "difficulty" that relies on the idea that somehow this is actually challenging (instead of annoying/frustrating) and also an arbitrary way to extend game time through constant repetition of content just to get to the one difficult spot.

Anyway, as Woody said a bigger gap between save points in harder difficulty levels can satisfy someone like Gevlon, who equates lost time with non-trivialization of content, vs. someone like myself, who feels that most games suffer from such needless repetition (unless they are designed for it; i.e. the repetition is a feature, not a flaw).
I don't fundamentally disaprove of a checkpoint system; if done really well I think I prefer it to a save-anywhere one, but if done badly, it's far worse.

The main issue I have is that I actually prefer a system that doesn't let me "save-scum", but I do insist on being able to quit and resume where I left off at any time or close to it (I can tolerate 5 minutes between checkpoints, but certainly not half an hour). The best systems give you a single save and automatically overwrite it as you play, but allow you to save all progress (including player position) at any time.
Funny that Shamus Young should post a column on the Escapist about this today.

It gives some insight in to why a Dev would choose to use only checkpoints instead of a save function.
I'm old fashioned but the only reason for a checkpoint system on the PC is laziness.
People don't always do what is good for them, even in terms of maximising their own gaming pleasure. So it is logically perfectly feasible that restricting their save options will sometimes improve their play experience. The only question is how often that is the case, and to what extent it improves the game for some players while disimproving it for others.

It's also true that serialisation at random points is a pain, though it's not all that difficult if you code correctly. I'd like to think that this is not usually the main reason for not having at-will saves, though.
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